You don’t need to be a big spender to get the best out of Melbourne. From the National Gallery of Victoria to street art in the laneways, you can get a true taste of the second-biggest city in Australia without shelling out – just follow our Culture Trip guide.
Many of the free activities in Melbourne involve walking, but you can also rest your legs by hopping on a tram – an integral part of the cityscape. The free City Circle Tram allows tourists and Melburnians alike to travel across the city, hopping on and off as they wish. The fleet of historical W-class trams, first introduced to the city in 1923, travels through La Trobe, Flinders, Spring, Nicholson and Victoria Streets, covering Melbourne’s central business district. There’s audio commentary on board as well, revealing the attractions at each stop, as well as interesting facts along the way.
Whether you’re searching for a peaceful refuge or seeking to admire their architectural feats, the churches and cathedrals are one of the more tranquil things to see in Melbourne. St Paul’s Cathedral, completed in the 1890s, is in the heart of Melbourne’s central business district. Designed by English architect William Butterfield, the cathedral is an example of neo-gothic transitional style. Nearby is the medieval-looking St Patrick’s Cathedral, which was actually built from 1858 to 1939. You’ll also find St Mary Star of the Sea Church and St Michael’s Uniting Church. These holy houses are impressive to look at and inspiring to visit.
Located 6km (3.7mi) southeast of Melbourne, the suburb of St Kilda is an idyllic seaside escape from the city. Stroll down the shoreline to St Kilda Pier to spot members of the little penguin colony that calls this place home, and admire the skyline views. The bustling Acland Street nearby is a great place to grab a bite, and on Sundays there’s a beachfront market too – or you can relax beside the avenue of palm trees in Catani Gardens. You can also walk around Luna Park for free but, of course, the activities cost extra.
One of the most interesting places to go in Melbourne, especially if you’re into people-watching, is the labyrinth of laneways that snake themselves around the city. They have become some of the most sought-after real estate for artists looking for urban canvases. Splashed in bright colours, the magnificent murals of Duckboard Place, as well as Union and ACDC Lanes are open to artistic expression and make for Instagram-worthy backdrops. Hosier Lane, near the old Forum movie theatre, is also a mecca for tourists taking street art selfies.
Many of Australia’s most iconic television shows have been filmed in Melbourne, including the soap Neighbours (1985–present), family drama Offspring (2010–2017),and comedy Kath & Kim (2002–2007). For Neighbours fans, all outside shots of Ramsay Street are filmed in Pin Oak Court, Vermont South. The non-free option is to do the Official Neighbours Tour, where you get to meet a Neighbours star (past or present). Filming for Kath & Kim took place at 4 Lagoon Place, Patterson Lakes. Offspring fans should visit Brunswick Street to see Dr Noonan’s surgery exterior and Emma Street in Collingwood to see the Proudman home.
Melbourne’s events calendar teems with festivals throughout the year, all of which offer free entertainment in addition to ticketed events. In March, there’s Moomba, which is Australia’s largest free community festival. There are nightly fireworks, celebrity monarchs and a parade, plus carnival rides and games galore. Other popular festivals in the city include the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, the Melbourne Writers Festival, Melbourne Fringe and Melbourne Festival, as well as Midsumma, the city’s LGBTQ pride festival.